At the end of the recent NFL Super Bowl, three of the Philadelphia Eagles — the head coach, quarterback and the receiver who made the game-winning touchdown — each praised the Lord after the momentous victory. I caught the end of that game while on a mini-retreat with five priests. In response to the “God-talk,” one of them said “that’s a good way to begin our retreat: All glory to God!”
As a priest I was trained to “find God in all things,” as St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, described his ministry. But as a human, I know that we sometimes want to take the credit for ourselves. And Americans can do it well, with swagger.
Being a Lombardi, I was brought up on football, and I even knew Colts coach Don Shula and played with his son Dave, who lived in our neighborhood of Timonium. I lost a tooth to football, but not a heart. We were taught to love the Lord and crash our neighbor (our opponents) — nicely, that is, after an opening prayer.
In the last decade though, football and professional sports have become a turnoff to me and many others: too much arrogance and pride in some athletes and teams; drug-doping scandals; the concussion stigma; co-opting of governmental monies to build private franchises and stadiums; omni-present ads; games crowding out other enterprises, including Sunday worship; and so on.
But I found refreshing the story of Nick Foles, backup quarterback of the Eagles. He was an oft-traded, no-name in the game and almost quit the sport — but decided to give football another chance. He seems genuine, has talked about becoming a pastor one day, and has a beautiful wife and darling baby daughter — all good marketing for folks like me.
After the championship playoff game two weeks ago his immediate comment — after being named Super Bowl MVP — was to glorify God, smiling like a young, innocent American boy with a gleam in his eye.
“All glory to God,” he said.
He showed me and literally billions that actions in this world consist of both God (or spirit) and nature — in this case, humans.
Some religious fundamentalists may claim it’s only God doing all the work, and we are mere puppets — downplaying unique, human talents and free choice. Meanwhile, other extremists, like some secularists, can be known for bragging and grabbing the limelight, neglecting God, or the supernatural element.
I was always taught (both on the football field and in the chapel) that actions are a “co-participation” of God and human harmoniously. Or, Carl Jung, famous Swiss psychologist, would say, they’re a “spiritual alchemy.” Modern physicists may call it synergy, which means many works, or diverse energies, working as one.
Sports and athletics can really get folks puffed up. So, I enjoy it when athletes pray visibly, make the sign of the cross,or give all glory to God, displaying the holy equation — both God and human together, versus human pride alone.
As the Vince Lombardi Trophy was paraded at the Super Bowl awards ceremony and many Eagles players stroked or caressed it in a display that sure looked religious, I thought of Vince Lombardi himself. He was no slouch, went to church daily, maybe not wanting to miss out on the spiritual synergy so many can neglect. Sure, many Christians (athletes and otherwise) can be “blowhards” or “showboats” without doing good deeds, but Lombardi gave countless monies to charities and inspired millions with his volunteer work and faith walk.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who once depicted herself as a pencil and God as the writer, said, “Do something beautiful for God.”
And in this case, the Eagles did — both spiritually and physically.
John J. Lombardi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is pastor of St. Peter Catholic church in western Maryland, and the author of the recently published, “Thirty Breaths: A Little Book on Meditation” (Cathedral Foundation).